I’ve raised the question of civility in discourse before, but it’s time to revisit the subject. Of late, I have been trolling the The Huffington Post–well, I say trolling, but really what I’ve been doing is expressing a minority opinion there. The editorial stance and the position taken by much of the commenters leans hard to the left. As my regular readers know, I’m a pogo stick on the traditional political spectrum. That’s because my core political philosophy is aimed at securing liberty for the individual, something I’ve taken to calling eleutherianism. Politics is best represented not as a spectrum, limited to one dimension, but as a multi-dimensional space.
Nevertheless, since at times the comments that I make feel to the right of many opinions expressed on the HuffnPuff, I get a chorus of replies intending to educate me on some point. The problem here is that said commenters have presumed that I don’t know what they do and thereby take it upon themselves to call me ignorant–and occasionally to correct the perceived deficiency.
What they apparently cannot comprehend is that people can have the same body of facts but arrive at different conclusions. They write comments in the manner that many of my students write argument essays by dumping a pile of facts into a posting and leaving. What they fail to understand is that facts don’t speak for themselves.
Let’s take the hot topic de jour, global warming. Some doubt the science, but rationally speaking, the facts are that the Earth is heating up, and human activity is the cause. But notice that those facts tell us precisely nothing about what we ought to do. There are a variety of responses that can be taken, from nothing at all to a radical restructuring of human societies. One can be fully aware of the facts and yet reach different answers regarding the appropriate action.
I’m not seeking consolation here. Politics, just like any other serious human endeavor, is a messy and occasionally ugly business. What I am suggesting is that we will all do better in arriving at solutions if we lay aside the urge to smugness and cease to presume that we know the facts of which our opponents must be ignorant.
Of course, there are some about whom we cannot escape the realization that they are willfully ignorant. Aye, there’s the rub. Separating the fools from the worthy adversaries is not easy. I’m asking here to give everyone a fair chance first before jumping to the conclusion that the person isn’t deserving of being heard.